Part Four: Nonprofit and First Republic Bank Help Hide Money from Silicon Valley Ex-Husbands
This is part four of an ongoing investigation. It is suggested, to begin with, Part One: The Forgotten Journalist
By Robert J. Hansen and Susan Bassi
The Los Altos nonprofit WomenSV, an organization that purports to help women who are going through a divorce with abusive husbands, provides little support and then refers these vulnerable women to high-priced attorneys, according to more than 50 women who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Virtually all of the women report that after reaching out to WomenSV for support, the divorce attorneys they were referred to provided legal services that exacerbated their problems, including losing ownership of the family home, custody of their children and being stripped of all their assets and community property, with some even facing criminal prosecution or threats of being jailed themselves.
If a lawyer referral service, like the one run by WomenSV, operates in California without certification by the state, they are violating the law, according to the California State Bar.
WomenSV is not on the Bar’s list of certified lawyer referral services.
The attorney referrals made by Patrick generated millions in legal fees for the family law firms and divorce lawyers. Most of the women who sought help from WomenSV were wealthy, and involved in high-asset divorces, the type of cases that divorce attorneys prize because they generate substantial legal fees. Billings can easily exceed $1 million in a single, high-asset divorce case.
The backstory of how Patrick came to start a nonprofit serving women going through abusive relationships and divorces does not appear to be what Patrick has claimed.
Patrick claims she was motivated to start WomenSV because she survived an abusive relationship and a traumatic divorce, but court records and other sources suggest otherwise.
WomenSV founder’s divorce
In 2009, Ruth Patrick filed for divorce and at the same time requested a domestic violence restraining order against her ex-husband. Simultaneous court filings are a common litigation tactic often used by ethically-challenged family law attorneys to gain an immediate advantage in a divorce case.
In Patrick’s case, the domestic violence allegations, if true, would give her significant leverage in any child custody dispute, spousal and child support determinations, and the division of community assets.
Court records indicate that the abuse claims in the Patrick divorce were not true, and instead part of an apparent scheme to obtain full custody of the couple’s two children and a $4 million divorce settlement.
When the restraining order was granted, the ex-husband had to turn his guns over to Mountain View Police for safekeeping, pending the outcome of the restraining order request. Ruth had turned in her guns two days earlier.
What is clear from courthouse records from the Patrick divorce and a 2019 defamation lawsuit is that, both before and throughout the nearly thirty-year marriage, Ruth Patrick struggled with persistent mental health issues.
The turbulence may have begun when Ruth’s father died when she was a young child. Several years later, during her marriage, her mother violently committed suicide.
During the divorce, Patrick was placed on a psychiatric hold by police two times in 2010, according to police records.
In April 2010, Ruth called the Palo Alto police while driving near El Camino Real Avenue and California Avenue claiming her husband was following her in his car with a gun, police reports reveal. When the police responded to Ruth’s call, they found her alone.
She told police that her husband was trying to kill her by slipping a drug into her drink and told them she “wants a lot of police officers here” because she believed her husband was out to kill her, police records show.
She also told the officer that her husband was going to import a missile from Czechoslovakia.
In 2008, as a collector’s item, and with written permission from the US government, Ruth’s former husband did legally purchase a disarmed, dismantled Russian air missile, but well before Ruth mentioned anything to the police.
Documents on the legal purchase of a Russian air missile by Ruth Patrick’s former husband.
Officers asked Ruth to step out of the car. She refused several times so the police used enough force to get her out of the car and screamed “help” several times, according to police reports.
“When I tried to place Patrick into my police vehicle she said I was attempting to break her arms, strangle her, and kill her. I was only holding on to her,” the officer wrote.
After taking Ruth to the hospital, Mountain View police went to her former husband’s home and pounded on the door, waking him up at nearly 2 a.m., according to court records.
Police explained that his ex-wife claimed their children were in the house in violation of a restraining order and needed to search the house.
“One officer told me that if I had not opened the door, he would have to kick it open,” the ex-husband said in his court declaration. “I’m glad I was home to open the door.”
He was told by an officer to sit down and while sitting he noticed one officer watching over him with both hands on his hips which made him nervous, according to court documents.,
“This struck me as unusual and made me nervous because I felt he wanted his hand close to his firearm,” Ruth’s ex-husband wrote in court records.
The officers then told the ex-husband that they would have to serve him the restraining order but because they did not have the necessary paperwork, they yelled the conditions of the restraining order to Ruth’s ex-husband outside beside the police car, records show.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the neighbors could also hear the conditions of the restraining order,” the former husband said in court documents. “The headlights and internal lights of the car were on and I was standing in my pajamas and bare feet on the sidewalk with two officers beside me.”
Divorce Partners of WomenSV
Shortly before she filed for divorce, Ruth consulted with psychologist Dr. Paul Marcille, who presently sits on the WomenSV Board of Directors.
Dr. Marcille also is a former President of both the Santa Clara County Psychological Association and the California Psychological Association.
“Marcille has completely overlooked or ignored the possibility of mental illness my wife inherited from her mother,” her ex-husband wrote in court documents.
Marcille did not respond to requests for comment.
“I am handicapped in my ability to get answers to these questions,” her ex-husband said in court records. “We cannot rely on my wife’s friends to be on standby to step in as surrogate parents whenever my wife has a psychotic episode.”
In almost 30 years of marriage, there was no record of abuse by Ruth’s ex-husband yet she was granted a domestic violence restraining order against her ex-husband even though he didn’t have a criminal background or a history of abuse.
“My wife is trying to manufacture reasons why the restraining order should be upheld. I have done nothing to violate the order. I am still trying to figure out how we went from a temporary to a permanent order without a hearing, and without my response being filed,” the former husband said, according to records.
The court documents show that Patrick agreed to drop the temporary restraining order she had filed at the beginning of the divorce case, raising doubts as to whether the restraining order was ever about concerns for her safety.
Despite having insufficient evidence proving abuse, by the end of the divorce, Ruth had sole custody of the child, whose college would be paid for by their father, was awarded about $4 million and the baby grand piano she claimed her husband had gifted to her during their marriage.
A year later Ruth founded WomenSV.
Ruth hired Hoge Fenton divorce attorneys Jim Towery (now judge), Michael Bonetto, Natasha Parrett and Phil Hammer who is now deceased.
An exclusive Vanguard investigation revealed the Santa Clara Bench-Bar-Media-Police Committee (BBMP), a secret committee of judges that selects attorneys, media, law enforcement and other participants feeding news to selected news organizations.
Hoge Fenton attorneys Natasha Parrett, James Towery and Michael Bonetto.
Towery was co-chair of the BBMP Committee from 2014 to 2022. Hammer regularly attended the dinner meetings until around the time of his retirement from practicing law. Ruth referred women from her support group to the Hoge Fenton law firm, according to several of the women who went to WomenSV.
Public relations specialist for Hoge Fenton, David Oates, said in an email that he was working on providing a statement but later said he was no longer “working on the case.”
Los Altos Police and City Council
Former Los Altos Mayor Jeannie Bruins and former Los Altos Police Chief Andy Galea recognized Ruth Patrick for WomenSV and her efforts related to domestic violence education, prevention, intervention and victim care in 2016.
WomenSV has received recognition from Los Altos City Council and Los Altos Police Department and WomenSV’s partnership with the city and police, according to its website,
Requests of records showing the nature of their relationship were requested from the City and police department but have not been provided.
When asked in person, Los Altos Police Sgt. B. Jeffrey refused to provide any information for or respond to any of the Vanguard’s questions about the department’s partnership with WomenSV.
“I’m not going to answer your questions,” the officer said. “Are we done?”
The video can be viewed here.
The Los Altos City Council granted a $40,000 Covid relief grant and a separate $20,000 grant in 2020, tax records show.
Newly elected Los Altos councilmember Pete Dailey said he wants to comment on WomenSV when more information becomes available.
“I read your reporting and have followed the thread on Nextdoor. I want to wait to see what else comes to light before offering a less informed opinion,” Dailey said via email.
Los Altos Mayor Sally Meadows nor any other Los Altos city official has provided the Vanguard with any response after several attempts.
Some of the nonprofit’s annual funding came from Santa Clara County taxpayers as Santa Clara Supervisor Joe Simitian suggested a $250,000 grant for the nonprofit.
Simitian’s office declined to comment on the Vanguard’s reporting of 50 women who said WomenSV was not supportive and referred them to the expensive attorneys who sat on the nonprofit’s advisory board.
WomenSV Auction and First Republic Bank
WomenSV has held auctions for several years where many of the same WomenSV board members, like Dennis Young and Jim Hoover, regularly attended.
At the 2019 “Gilded Cage” auction, the same attorneys that Ruth sent clients to, came to the auction at which attendees paid $150 per dinner plate.
Also, former and current elected officials in the city of Los Altos and Santa Clara County attended these auctions.
Among them were former Palo Alto Mayor Liz Kniss and former Los Altos Mayor Lynett Lee Eng.
Santa Clara District Attorney Jeff Rosen, Deputy District Attorneys Jay Boyarsky and James Gibbons-Shapiro also attended the 2019 auction. All three men regularly attended BBMP dinner meetings.
Vacations, wine and art were among those auctioned off by WomenSV. In FY 2019-2020, WomenSV raised over $76,000 in fundraising events, tax records show. That same year, $5,000 was spent on client support.
D.A. “Dave” Hendrickson’s painting, “Journey Into Light” was one of the items sold at the 2019 auction. Dave is Santa Clara County Superior Court judge Cindy Hendrickson’s husband.
Judge Hendrickson replaced Aaron Persky after his recall last year and regularly attended BBMP events.
Several women who attended WomenSV support groups report that Ruth invited First Republic Bank Manager Gigi Kuburski, who now sits on the WomenSV advisory board, to speak at support groups.
Several women report Ruth told them to go to First Republic Bank where Kuburski would assist them in opening up accounts where they could hide money from their ex-husbands.
First Republic Bank’s San Francisco and Los Altos offices have not responded to several attempts for comment.
WomenSV received a Paycheck Protection Loan of $41,400 through First Republic Bank, which was approved in April 2020 and shows being repaid in full.
First Republic shares sank 20 percent Thursday and showed signs that it could be the next bank to fail in the wake of the failure of Silicon Valley Bank.
First Republic shares are down 60 percent in the past week and is looking for rescue options, the New York Times reported.
BBMP Judge’s Favorite Attorneys
BBMP Superior Court judges and other select attorneys, prosecutors, law enforcement officials and media professionals routinely met at Three Flames Restaurant in San Jose four to five times a year, according to records, some dating back to 1988.
The existence of the BBMP appears to have operated in secret for decades which allowed chosen media outlets to smolder competing reporting and provided a forum for the favored attorney attendees to communicate with judges about anything – including pending cases.
“If true, this would be concerning as it relates to public transparency and accountability,” said Joseph Tully, Criminal Attorney and author of California: State of Collusion.
The current BBMP co-chairs are Judge Towery and Judge Lori Pegg.
The number of BBMP attendees is expansive. Besides chairs Judges Towery and Pegg, other judges who have attended are Cindy Hendrickson, Carol Overton, Catherine Gallagher and Stuart Scott.
Several attorneys with the District Attorney’s Office including Rosen himself, San Mateo District Attorney Steve Wagstaff and attorneys with the Santa Clara Office of the Public Defender.
Private attorneys who often attended James McManis, James Chadwick, Caitlin Mezzetti, Thomas Hogan and Steve Clark.
San Jose State Professor Terry Christensen was a moderator during a 2014 meeting but declined to comment on the BBMP.
“I’ll pass. Any comment would be pure speculation,” Christensen said via email.
San Jose Mercury editors Bert Robinson, Howard Mintz and reporters Tracey Kaplan and Robert Salonga regularly were invited to BBMP dinner meetings.
NBC’s Tony Kovaleski and Robert Handa also attended.
The records show that the BBMP is part of the Santa Clara County Superior Court and the Vanguard’s investigation has thus far found no other California court having anything like the BBMP.
“This insidious instrument of injustice appears to be unique to Santa Clara County Superior Court with ramifications and implications of conducting such underground meetings as favors to selected attorneys and others are staggering and disruptive,” a California attorney said.
The BBMP was organized and constituted by the court’s judges and funded by the court with tax dollars designated for the grand jury and jury operations. Though the BBMP was founded 30 years ago, since DA Rosen was elected in 2010, attendees of the BBMP became even more selective.
The committee has conducted its operations outside the public eye and without public notice. Participation by non-judge members, attorneys, law enforcement or media was “by invitation only.”
Records disputing this have so far not been able to be provided by Santa Clara County or the Court.
In an email, the Court maintained that there are “no further substantial records” according to an email from Santa Clara CEO Lisa Herrick.
Herrick routinely attended BBMP meetings before she became a court attorney, records indicate.
BBMP Judges have displayed favoritism to selected and invited attorneys, improper judge control and funneling of judicial developments in cases of public interest to preferred media outlets.
Since 2010, the San Jose Mercury and NBC Bay Area have been “embedded” in the BBMP so that they have exclusive access to cases selectively revealed or concealed by BBMP judges.
Editors and reporters at both the Mercury, NBC and The Crier have not responded to several requests for comment.
There continues a complete and thorough review of all obtained BBMP records with interviews of repeat attorneys and other special guests.
Yet to be determined is how many and which litigants over the years were denied due process or otherwise adversely affected by secret court-conducted BBMP “backroom” arrangements with selected “favorite” attorneys or by surreptitious select media coverage.
Paul Gackle and the female victims of former San Francisco 49ers have so far been identified as litigants whose cases were adversely impacted and whose stories were untold or misrepresented by the San Jose Mercury and NBC Bay Area.
The relationship The Mercury, NBC and the BBMP seem to have, mirrors the relationship WomenSV has with the Los Altos Crier as they give favorable, unscrupulous coverage.
The Los Altos Crier regularly has published articles written by Ruth for the last decade. Dennis Young, Los Altos Town Crier co-owner, is also the CPA for WomenSV.
The Los Altos Crier has made donations to WomenSV, while its co-owner, Young, sits on the nonprofit’s Board of Directors.
WomenSV has published articles in the Los Altos Crier that assert statistics, like the number of women the nonprofit has supported, that go unquestioned. There are no records that show tangible results of how WomenSV has helped women of domestic violence.
One incident that oddly received very little media attention was Gloria Hejna who tragically committed suicide by jumping off of the San Antonio bridge in 2006.
Though it was reported by Palo Alto Online that Hejna was depressed, it was her divorce that drove her to suicide, according to her family.
Hejna’s attorney was Rebekah Frye, another BBMP regular. Hejna worked at Oracle where Dave Hendrickson, who donated his artwork to WomenSV was a facility manager whose wife, Judge Hendrickson as mentioned, regularly went to BBMP meetings.
“Seeking help from WomenSV was the worst decision I have ever made. We were betrayed by the local news, police, elected officials and institutions we all were told we could trust. The harm Ruth and everyone at WomenSV did to me and so many women is far worse than anything ever done by our husbands,” Jane Doe3 said.